“Nothing is currently more important to the Merchant Venturers than seeing Bristol’s education system become one associated with high levels of achievement…” – Peter Rilett, Chairman of the Venturers’ TrustCommittee
The Venturers’ Trust
The Society of Merchant Venturers is delighted to announce the launch of The Venturers’ Trust, an umbrella trust set up to provide further opportunities for our schools and other prospective schools & pupils in the greater Bristol area.
For many years the Merchants’ contribution to local education focused on the Society’s two schools, Colston’s School (Upper and Lower) and Colston’s Girls’ School.
The decision to sponsor one of the first Academies in Bristol through the conversion of Withywood Community School into Merchants’ Academy in 2008 was a watershed for the Society, changing the course and ambition for its involvement in local education. An initial capital commitment of £2million was made by the Society of Merchant Venturers for the new Academy and since then the Merchants have continued to provide significant additional ongoing support to all aspects of Academy life. In addition, and as co-sponsor, the University of Bristol also invest a considerable amount of time and energy in providing support to the Academy, its pupils and staff.
A further transformational decision by the Society was to make Colston’s Girls’ School an Academy, also in 2008. Significantly overscribed, Colston’s Girls’ School has become one of the nation’s most successful Academies, with its pupil numbers increasing from under 400 to over 800 and recording the best GCSE results for a non selective school in the South West.
The next step has been to expand the Merchants’ involvement in Primary education, taking into the fold five more Primary schools. First came Gay Elms in Withywood, which joined Merchants’ Academy making it an all through school. Then, as part of Colston’s Girls’ School Trust, came Dolphin School and St Anne’s Primary School (renamed Kingfisher School) and, in 2015, Fairlawn Primary Academy will open its doors to new pupils and Bannerman Road Community Academy will join the Trust.
In addition, the Society is immensely proud of its continuing close association with Colston’s School in Stapleton. Now over 300-years-old, it is a successful independent school that provides a broadly-based and rich education to over 700 pupils from 4-18.
The latest addition to the Merchant Venturers’ family of schools will be Venturers’ Academy, opening in September 2016 and catering for 84 children aged from 4-16. It will meet increasing demand for high-quality specialist autism provision from across Bristol and the surrounding area. Discussions are also underway with the Department for Education and the City Council to establish a new Sixth Form College in the centre of Bristol with close links to Colston’s Girls’ School Trust and Bristol Cathedral Choir School.
The Merchants’ Roots in Education
The Merchant Venturers have been involved in education in Bristol for at least 400 years — archival records show that they were running a school for the children of mariners as early as 1595. This grew into the Bristol Trade School in the 18th century, which subsequently became the Merchant Venturers’ School and later the Merchant Venturers’ Technical College.
When Bristol University was granted its Charter in 1909 the engineering department of the Technical College became the University’s Faculty of Engineering. Meanwhile, the Technical College became Bristol Polytechnic, the precursor of the University of the West of England.
In 1708 Edward Colston founded Colston’s School and endowed it, appointing the Merchant Venturers as managers of the endowment.
In 1891 Colston’s Girls’ School was created under the auspices of the same foundation. One hundred years later in 1991 Colston’s School became co-educational through its merger with the Collegiate School, Winterbourne.
The Merchant Venturers’ commitment to see a step change in the quality of secondary education in Bristol is reflected in its more recent involvement in supporting the maintained sector. This has culminated in the formation of The Venturers’ Trust in 2015 which has enhanced the opportunities for its member schools, whilst also providing an umbrella organisation for other schools to join.